Following months of litigation and electoral uncertainty, this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States closed the book on North Carolina’s latest redistricting chapter.
On Feb. 23, a three-judge panel overseeing Harper v. Hall issued its decision to enact state House, state Senate and Congressional maps for North Carolina. Per the panel’s order, it approved lawmakers’ newly drawn state House and Senate maps, and approved interim Congressional maps drawn with the help of three “special masters” appointed to the case.
Both the plaintiffs and defendants appealed various parts of the decision to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the panel’s ruling and gave a final OK to state House and state Senate maps. It also upheld the interim Congressional maps enacted by the three-judge panel, but the possibility remained for defendants to appeal these electoral districts one final time.
On Friday, Feb. 25, House Speaker Tim Moore announced the defendants’ motion to appeal the Congressional maps to the Supreme Court of the United States. Attorneys for the legislative defendants filed an Emergency Application for Stay of the rulings enacted by North Carolina’s state courts, arguing that the legislature is constitutionally vested with the authority to govern elections matters– not state courts. The filing sought to block the court-drawn Congressional maps and ultimately reinstate the electoral districts drawn and passed by lawmakers.
The following week, a number of organizations, including the North Carolina State Board of Elections, asked the Supreme Court of the United States to deny lawmakers’ request for an emergency stay and allow the state court-approved districts to stand.
Meanwhile, North Carolina’s candidate filing for the 2022 elections was once again underway, following a months-long delay, as the state’s May 17 primary date inched ever closer. The candidate filing period lasted through March 4, during which time all candidates running for office were required to file for their intended office, including those looking to run for the newly implemented interim Congressional districts.
Just three days later, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision.
Supreme Court justices announced Monday, March 7, that North Carolina’s interim Congressional districts would stand for the 2022 elections. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to deny the legislative defendants’ request for intervention, with Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas dissenting. Justice Kavanaugh, consistent with his opinion in a recent Alabama redistricting case before the court, held that it was too late for federal intervention in state elections given the proximity of the election period.
The final approval of North Carolina’s congressional maps means the approaching May 17 primary date will stand, and that candidates that have recently filed to run for Congress in the interim electoral districts can carry on with their campaigns as planned.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling to keep the enacted interim congressional maps intact for the 2022 elections, lawmakers are free to revise North Carolina’s congressional districts for the 2024 cycle and beyond. Additionally, Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Thomas indicated a desire to address the power of state courts in federal elections down the road, leaving the door open for future Supreme Court intervention.
The approved Congressional maps are likely to have a 7-6 split between Republican and Democratic districts with one toss-up district in the Raleigh area, and all enacted maps meet the court-approved metric for competitiveness, which was central to the lengthy litigation. In addition to new maps, North Carolina’s increasingly purple voter demographics are likely to make for highly competitive midterm races, as recent data shows unaffiliated voters are surpassing those registered with either party to become the largest voting bloc in the state.
As the 2022 elections quickly approach, stay tuned for further electoral coverage through this election cycle and beyond, here.